At its special meeting last Friday, the national executive committee of the University and College Union rejected the government's heads-of-agreement offer on the Teachers' Pension Scheme. The offer made no significant changes to the coalition's previous proposals. The NEC also decided to continue industrial action in defence of the TPS and to seek coordination with the other teacher unions.
Urgent discussions with our sister unions will take place over the next two weeks. As part of a wider programme, the next day of national strike action by the UCU is scheduled for 1 March, and it has invited other "rejectionist" unions to join in.
The attack on our pensions, which could result in teachers working an extra three years (or longer), paying greater contributions and receiving smaller benefits, has been seen as part of a general government attack on post-16 education. The TPS offer is particularly divisive in that older lecturers are offered some protection while younger members would feel the full brunt of these detrimental plans.
The pensions changes would certainly facilitate the privatisation ambitions stated in the government's higher education White Paper.
The increased contributions, from 6.4 per cent of salaries to 9.6 per cent, can accurately be described as an additional tax that the government is imposing on members of the TPS. However, the scheme is not in deficit but in substantial annual surplus! The only beneficiaries under the offer would be the employers, as their contributions would fall from 14.1 per cent to 12.1 per cent.
While reaffirming its commitment to ballot members if there is a significant new offer from the government, the national executive, in line with the National Union of Teachers and the Public and Commercial Services Union, has decided not to ballot now as the heads-of-agreement offer does not represent a substantial improvement.
The executive urges every TPS branch and region of the UCU to hold meetings to reflect on its decision, to consider how best to build the campaign locally and nationally, and to hold local discussions with other unions.
The NEC will reconvene in special session on 10 February to consider a report from Sally Hunt, the general secretary, on the response of the other unions plus the reports from branch and regional meetings. We urge every educationalist, whether a UCU member or not, to get involved in this campaign: while its direct focus is the TPS, it also has ramifications for the very nature of our colleges and universities.
Jane Hardy, NEC (writing in a personal capacity), University and College Union